Here’s the thing about The People Under the Stairs: when I first saw it in the theater, I was so disappointed because I thought it was TERRIBLE. But since then, I’ve recognized that it actually swings right past terrible into “so bad it’s good” territory. Everything is hilariously over the top, to the point where you can’t actually believe Craven wrote and directed this ridiculousness.
After his parents get evicted from their apartment, “Fool” enlists the help of Leroy to break into the landlord’s house and steal their giant pile of gold coins. Wait. What. Anyway! Things go awry and Fool gets trapped inside, discovering that the house is actually a house of horrors—“Mommy” and “Daddy” (Wendy Robie and Everett McGill, who played Nadine and Ed Hurley in Twin Peaks!!!), a pair of brother/sister/man/wife serial killers, have a habit of adopting kids and then torturing and mutilating them when they don’t behave as expected.
The mutilated kids are then banished to live in the walls and are starved to the point of cannibalism, which is a convenient way for Mom & Dad to dispose of interlopers. Daughter Alice (Rayanne Graff!) is currently the only one allowed to live in the house, as she hasn’t broken any rules…until Fool arrives, that is. One of the kids whose tongue has been cut out, Roach, runs around the walls causing trouble and I guess, not eating people.
I know, right? This is the movie! I’m not making this stuff up. This is the actual plot of this movie.
I’m not sure how much of the hilarity should be credited to Robie playing Mommy with crazed Joan Crawford-esque enthusiasm, or McGill’s Daddy running around in an S&M suit with a shotgun, but these two are definitely my favorite part of the whole movie.
I noticed while pulling up details for this film that it’s now labeled as a “horror-comedy” but the thing is I absolutely don’t remember it being billed that way when it was released in 1991 (the trailer seems to skew more towards the horror end of the spectrum).
Whether or not it was intentional, and even though all the terror is played for laughs (there is absolutely NOTHING scary about this movie), The People Under the Stairs is still a whole lot of fun to watch.
In fact, I think I need to buy a copy for keeps.